This morning I stopped in a bagel shop on 76th Street and York Avenue and ordered a bagel and a cup of coffee. I was dragging, I had writing to do. My blood sugar felt like it was in the gutter.
"Decaf coffee?" The counter guy asked as gave my bulging belly the once over.
"Regular," I said.
"But you're pregnant," he said. "Have you checked with your doctor? Is it safe?"
Is a guy with a 10th grade education also an OB/GYN? "I could smoke crack if I wanted to," I said. "So why don't you make it a large coffee?"
Reluctantly the counter guy served me (I'm still convinced it's decaf, even as I'm writing this) and exchanged nervous glances with his colleague, as if I had just asked for a fifth of bourbon. As an adult it's insulting to have my breakfast choices questioned, even more so by someone who prepares bagels and schmears for a living. But it's not the first time a stranger has openly questioned my java, and maybe it's time we had a healthy discussion about it.
The No-Coffee-While-Pregnant is the strangest wives tale I've heard Even stranger is that in a place like Manhattan, where you expect people to be mildly enlightened, do people openly criticize you about it. 90% of the time it's someone who's never had children, been pregnant or knows anything about gestation. Apart being poor manners, most people don't have a valid reason as to why they think it's true, and believe me, I've questioned many a nosy Starbucks barista who tried to slip me a decaf latte. They just repeat it, regardless if they know if there's any truth behind it. Anyone who's ever been pregnant knows how exhausting creating life can be. Fatigue hits at inconvenient times, usually when you have to deal with clients or meet up with friends. A cup of Joe goes a long way in getting the modern pregnant woman through her day.
According to everything I've read, coffee and any risk to pregnancy is more of a first trimester issue, especially if you're having issues conceiving. It is surmised that the way caffeine constricts blood vessels it could, in turn, constrict blood flow to the placenta, and thus lead to miscarriage. For people who have had issues with miscarriage, I understand their concern. But for a pregnant woman in her eighth month, and who's been drinking coffee since she conceived, it's not that much of a to-do. In fact, my doctor points out at every visit how my placenta's purring like a kitten and my boy is most likely going to be on the larger side. He's been practicing for 30 years and also thinks the hubbub over coffee when pregnant is silly, mostly because there has never been a conclusive study about negative effects caffeine may have.
Pregnant women -- and by extension, their fetuses -- are a lot more hearty than they get credit for. During the month of May I had two emergency root canals, neither of which was a big deal to either myself or the dentist who performed them. My dentist spent years as an emergency room dentist and broke it down: by your third trimester, your kid is fully formed. You can do any procedure on a pregnant woman, provided you use the right drugs. In the case of a root canal, it's Novacaine with no epinephrine. She then suggested I have a glass of wine or two in order to help dull the pain and sleep through the night before the procedure. I passed, mostly because I didn't have a decent bottle of Bordeaux lying around.
Raise your hand if you were born pre-1980s. Call your mother (she misses you) and ask her if she drank coffee, ate tuna, lunch meats, sat in the sun and even smoked when she was pregnant. Chances are, she did. And look how well you turned out! I've known a lot of women who obsessed about what was going in and out of their bodies when they were pregnant, and they are the same women who turn into hovering, helicopter mothers who micromanage every detail of their kid's life. It's not such a bad idea to loosen up sometimes, if only for the sake of not creating a generation of neurotic Woody Allens.
The bottom line is that, pregnant or not, it's nobody's business what I'm eating or drinking. I don't tell obese people at McDonald's to put down the Big Mac, just as I don't stop already drunken 20-something women from going into yet another bar at two in the morning. So why pick on a pregnant woman who's just trying to stay sharp, or even awake? Just give me a coffee, a seat on the subway, and no one gets hurt.
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